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Collage of Myself

Walt Whitman and the Making of Leaves of Grass

Matt Miller

Publication Year: 2010

Collage of Myself presents a groundbreaking account of the creative story behind America’s most celebrated collection of poems. In the first book-length study of Walt Whitman’s journals and manuscripts, Matt Miller demonstrates that until approximately 1854 (only a single year before the first publication of Leaves of Grass), Whitman—who once speculated that Leaves would be a novel or a play—was unaware that his ambitions would assume the form of poetry at all. Collage of Myself details Whitman’s discovery of a remarkable new creative process that allowed him to transform a diverse array of texts into poems such as “Song of Myself” and “The Sleepers.” Whitman embraced an art of fragments that encouraged him to “cut and paste” his lines into ever-evolving forms based on what he called “spinal ideas.” This approach to language, Miller argues, represents the first major use in the Western arts of the technique later known as collage, an observation with significant ramifications for our reception of subsequent artists and writers. Long before the modernists, Whitman integrated found text and ready-made language into a revolutionary formulation of artistic production that anticipates much of what is exciting about modern and postmodern art. Using the Walt Whitman Archive’s collection of digital images to study what were previously scattered and inaccessible manuscript pages, Miller provides a breakthrough in our understanding of this great American literary icon.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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Title Page

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Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xii

This book would not exist without the generosity of Professor Ed Folsom. How he manages to give so much to so many is his secret. The book would also not exist were it not for the online Walt Whitman Archive (www.whitmanarchive.org), coedited by Ed Folsom and Kenneth Price, which provided the digital images of Whitman’s manuscripts essential to this study. ...

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pp. xiii-xviii

This book is a case study of the creative process, a demonstration of how Walt Whitman composed his early poems, and a reevaluation of the origins of collage as a practice in Western art. Here, I explore an enduring mystery in American literary studies: the question of how Walter Whitman, a rather undistinguished newspaperman ...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xix-xxii

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1. How Whitman Used His Early Notebooks

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pp. 1-47

As we look back on Leaves of Grass today, over a century and a half after the publication of the first edition, we are still at a loss to explain how Walt Whitman came to create such a groundbreaking book. As a result of scant and often misunderstood documentary evidence from the period leading ...

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2. Packing and Unpacking the First Leaves of Grass

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pp. 71-126

Between 1853 and 1855, as Whitman was creating his poetic selfhood in writing, piecing together an identity from notes and scraps of written and found language, Whitman moved no less than four times, taking with him not only his family, but also his notebooks, manuscript fragments, and the ...

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3. Kosmos Poets and Spinal Ideas

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pp. 104-160

Even as the nomadic Whitman of the early 1850s lived a life on the go, moving from house to house and desk to desk with his myriad notebooks and scattered drafts of lines, he was also searching for threads of order in what he had written, structures that would come to shape the poems of the first ...

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4. Poems of Materials

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pp. 161-214

In July 1855 two events occurred that must have profoundly affected Walt Whitman: in the beginning of the month the first edition of Leaves of Grass was made available to the public, and only a week or so later his father succumbed to a prolonged, debilitating illness, passing away in his home on July 11.1 Whitman...

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5. Whitman after Collage/ Collage after Whitman

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pp. 215-250

After Whitman discovered his groundbreaking approach to literary composition he struggled with how to define and describe it, even in his notes to himself. The word collage had not yet been invented; nor did Whitman have recourse to related terms such as pastiche, montage, or found art. ...


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pp. 251-274


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pp. 275-282


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pp. 283-295

E-ISBN-13: 9780803234420
E-ISBN-10: 0803234422
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803225343
Print-ISBN-10: 0803225342

Page Count: 320
Illustrations: 21 illustrations
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 857110804
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Collage of Myself

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Whitman, Walt, -- 1819-1892 -- Technique.
  • Whitman, Walt, 1819-1892. Leaves of grass.
  • Whitman, Walt, 1819-1892 -- Notebooks, sketchbooks, etc.
  • Whitman, Walt, 1819-1892 -- Manuscripts.
  • Collage.
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